While the US moves backwards, Australia protects abortion rights
How attacks on Roe v. Wade are influencing reproductive rights around the world
As too many US states attempt to take away a woman’s right to safe abortion and ultimately overturn Roe v. Wade , reproductive rights activists and organizations around the world are fighting to prevent their governments from going down the same path.
Our new podcast episode examines how the recent decriminalization of abortion in Australia was influenced by the increasingly restrictive abortion bills debated across the United States.
In September 2019, New South Wales became the last state in Australia to decriminalize abortion. The new law allows abortion up to 22 weeks, or later if two doctors agree. It replaced a 119-year-old law that could land a woman in prison for up to 10 years for getting an abortion.
You may be wondering what took New South Wales so long to decriminalize. Why now?
“It’s a combination of factors,” said Jacquie O’Brien, Director of Public Affairs and Policy at MSI Australia who played an integral role in the decriminalization campaign. “Queensland decriminalized abortion last year, and it is often viewed as one of Australia’s most conservative states. But international factors have played into this as well, particularly what’s happening in the States. It has strengthened the resolve in Australia to not go down that route.”
Decriminalizing abortion has a profound impact for women. In many of the countries we work in, abortion is heavily restricted — only legal under a few, specific circumstances. Any woman who gets an abortion outside of these circumstances could face criminal charges, along with the doctors who performed it. This was the case in New South Wales, and it meant hospitals were uncomfortable providing a safe abortion. The specific legal requirements were too complex, and the threat of arrest and criminal charges too dire.
“While [hospitals and doctors] want to provide abortions and want to help, that element of criminality is not something they want to take on,” Jacquie said. When abortion is criminalized to any degree, even women who legally qualify for an abortion struggle to get one.
Australia’s journey to decriminalization is an inspiring victory for choice as women in the US face growing threats to abortion rights. Anti-abortion legislation may set us back, but MSI will always fight for women to make their own decisions about their lives and futures. If activists could overthrow a 119-year-old abortion law in Australia, then together, we can uphold a woman’s right to choose worldwide.